- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Maryland lawmakers leading a petition drive that would force a General Assembly special session on energy rates shifted tactics yesterday and asked Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to reconvene the legislature voluntarily.

“The strategy has changed,” said Delegate Curt Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who, with fellow members of the Legislative Black Caucus, has been trying to force a special session by petition.

He said that if Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, does not concede to the request, “that’s when we will start going full force.”

Mr. Anderson and about 10 black caucus members made the request of Mr. Ehrlich at an Annapolis press conference.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said the governor welcomed “credible recommendations” to soften the blow of a pending 72 percent increase in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) energy rates.

“To date, no one has stepped forward with those recommendations,” he said. “The governor hasn’t ruled out a special session, but he has said there needs to be a specific, credible plan. … The governor is not going to call a special session just for the sake of looking busy.”

Under state law, a petition signed by the majority in both chambers — 24 senators and 71 delegates — would compel the governor to call a special session. A special session has never been forced by petition in state history.

Political observers and Republican lawmakers have said the petition drive is dead.

Also, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, have not endorsed the effort, although they have stopped short of opposing the move.

Still, Mr. Anderson said he had “strong commitments” from 45 House members and 15 senators. Democrats have led the push for a special session since Mr. Ehrlich, who is seeking re-election in November, announced last month that he had brokered a deal with BGE to phase in the rate increase for the utility’s 1.1 million residential customers. The governor’s plan, which was approved by the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC), was crafted after the Democrat-controlled legislature adjourned without passing an energy plan.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, has challenged the phase-in plan in Baltimore Circuit Court. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Proponents of a special session continue to call for measures that the General Assembly failed to pass during the 90-day session. Those measures include reducing the governor’s authority over the PSC, temporarily restoring rate caps and assigning a special counsel to examine the proposed $11 billion merger of Constellation Energy Group, BGE’s parent company, and Florida Power & Light.

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